Warnock Loses his Shorts to Watford
Fri 10 Dec 2010 @ 7.45pm
Attendance: 14, 079
There is always a silver lining to every cloud. To this cloud? That, finally, Neil Warnock can put his shorts away and get out his long, warm tracksuit bottoms - our unbeaten run is over and he has made good on his promise!
Against Watford, quite honestly, QPR were a shadow of the team that romped to the top of the league and enjoyed an unbeaten 19-match run, second only to the 20-match unbeaten run of 1972. And if you are going to lose, at least lose to the better team not some fluky own goal or something equally unappealing. And Watford were the better team.
Friday night in front of the BBC cameras saw me not at home, in the warmth, but at Loftus Road, ready for an assault on the 20th game undefeated. I left Loftus Road not so much disappointed, after seeing us succumb to a 1-3 defeat; but relieved. Because, to be honest, I have felt for some weeks now that we were beginning to wilt under the pressure of this unbeaten run - that albatross around our neck has now been lifted so that, hopefully, we can continue our assault on the league without worrying about when we are going to lose!
Warnock made one change to our line-up, bringing in Heidar Helguson for Rob Hulse, who found himself on the bench. The defence retained its familiar look of Kenny in goal, Hill and Walker at full-back and Gorkss and Connolly at the heart of defence. A 5-man midfield of Taarabt, Faurlin, Derry, Mackie and Smith supported Helguson as the loan striker.
Watford were unchanged from the team that earned a late victory at Leicester last time out.
To be fair, I felt that we started the brighter of the two teams; and, indeed, on 3 minutes, Mackie had a chance to open the scoring. A quick throw on from Walker found Helguson who, in his turn, found Mackie on the right. Mackie cut in and, from just outside the area, managed a shot with his weaker left foot that went wide of the post.
A minute late, Helguson himself brought out a great stop from Watford`s custodian, Scott Loach. This time Mackie was provider, following good work from Adel Taarabt, and Helguson was able to pull off a snap shot which was heading for goal until Loach tipped it over the cross bar.
Rangers even had a good shout for a penalty from what looked, to me, like a definite handball and which, according to my friend watching back home on the BBC; television showed to be exactly that. But none of the officials saw the handball and our appeals were waved away.
Meanwhile, Watford had started to get going and on 10 minutes, Will Buckley brought out the first of many saves which Paddy Kenny was called upon to make during the game. Buckley had managed to break free from the clutches of the usually reliable Kaspars Gorkss and, from 10 yards or so out, took aim. Thankfully, Kenny was able to block the shot.
But he could do nothing about the next serious Watford attack. The game had been to-ing and fro-ing, with Rangers inexplicably playing the long-ball (Kenny seemingly intent on booting the ball high up the pitch towards Helguson at every opportunity) instead of their lovely, passing football - you know, the type of beautiful football that sees the ball stay on the pitch not float about in the air!
On 25 minutes, Andrew Taylor, who was able to lose Walker relatively easily, whipped a cross into the box. Hornet`s striker Danny Graham sent the ball hurtling past Kenny into the bottom left-hand corner of the goal from close range. Where was our defence? They looked more like Swiss cheese at that moment than the solid wall that had proved impenetrable to so many teams, home and away, this season.
Goal: QPR 0 - 1 Watford
Game on! I thought. Now we can relax and start playing our real football - to me, we had looked nervous and unsure after those initial opening attacks. Perhaps the weight of expectation was lying too heavily on our shoulders - top of the league, 19-matches unbeaten, live on t.v. (having not really done ourselves justice in our previous television appearance this season at Bristol City). But I was so wrong because Watford hadn`t read the script!
They doubled their lead within 4 minutes. On 29 minutes, Jordon Mutch looked to be sending in a cross towards Martin Taylor, but from 30 yards out somehow the ball ended up crossing the line and nestling in the bottom left-hand corner of the goal. There were shouts of offside - I was too stunned to notice although my BBC-watching friend assured me there had been an offside!
Goal: QPR 0 - 2 Watford
Would it now be game on, I asked myself? We did make a few half-hearted attempts at pulling a goal back, like Taarabt`s free-kick which missed the left-hand corner of the target by a matter of inches on 42 minutes (ok, that wasn`t really half-hearted but a well-struck free kick; but, in all honesty, I felt that Taarabt had left his scoring boots in the dressing room tonight).
But in truth we were rather lucky not to be 3-0 down by then! Kenny came to our rescue on more than one occasion and at the close of the first half, Clint Hill made a timely and vital save on the goal-line from a close-range Jordon Mutch effort. And then both Derry and Hill were called into action following two quick corners taken by that trouble-maker, I mean, by that man Mutch!
Half time: QPR 0 - 2 Watford
Ok, now Uncle Neil has the lads back in the dressing room. He can sort them out and we`ll come out all-guns-blazing, get a quick goal and then continue pressing Watford until we get an equaliser. After which, who knows? Yes, I was day-dreaming over my half-time cup of tea and delicious Mars Bar.
Because it was Watford who came out the brighter and, within 2 minutes of the restart, Watford had a third goal in the bag. Gorkss somehow became all tangled up with Stephen McGinn but it was the Watford man who got to the ball first, feeding it through to Danny Graham. Graham simply had to beat Paddy Kenny, which isn`t usually so simple, but as Kenny came out to stop Graham, the Hornet`s striker slid the ball past Kenny from about 12 yards out and into the bottom right-hand side of the goal.
Goal: QPR 0 - 3 Watford
Oh yeuck! This wasn`t expected at all. And, in truth, even after their 3rd, Watford kept pressing us and I was now left hoping and praying we weren`t going to be humiliated (as Watford had done to Millwall earlier this season, for example!) Yes, we tried, well kind of. That third goal seemed to knock the stuffing out of us and I wasn`t surprised when, on 59 minutes, Warnock swapped Faurlin and Taarabt for Orr and Clarke, respectively, and then, on 70 minutes brought Hulse on for Helguson.
Clint Hill had had a shot, just before the first substitutions, which seemed goal-bound but which was deflected for a corner, taken by Taarabt. But after the 3rd Watford goal, even Warnock and Curle seemed to accept the inevitable. Instead of the usually animated and vociferous management team standing on the touchline just below where I sit, I saw two subdued men quietly conferring every now and again, watching, as we were all watching, the end of our great, unbeaten run.
But, thanks to some great, if not a little late, defending from the likes of Derry (who blocked Danny Graham`s goal-bound header as the striker looked for his hat-trick) and Connolly (who was on hand to stop another attempt by the Hornet`s striker still searching for his 3rd goal of the night); the score-line remained at 3.
That is until Tommy Smith decided to take matters into his own hands and bring a little respectability back to the score-line on 89 minutes. Picking up the ball inside the area, Smith sent the ball low and hard into the bottom left-hand corner of the goal. Phew, 1-3! No-one really bothered to cheer though - everyone knew it was too little, too late.
Goal: QPR 1 - 3 Watford
And so it proved as, even with 5 minutes extra time, Watford were not about to let this game go the way many of their previous matches had gone this season. On 95 minutes, Deadman blew his whistle one last time, and the curtain came down on Rangers` unbeaten run.
Final whistle: QPR 1 - 3 Watford
Now, many around me were blaming the ill omens that had surrounded tonight`s kick-off: we started off shooting towards the Loft, never a good thing. Or we just can`t play well on television. Or even someone had put the wrong coloured socks on! But, to be honest, these are just ramblings from stunned fans - we just weren`t good enough tonight and Watford were. Fair play to them.
So now, I can look back on the last 4 months of this season and see it for what it really has been - a superb effort by our beloved team which has propelled us to the giddy heights of top of the Championship and for extremely good reason. 19 matches unbeaten - wow! Who would ever have thought it of QPR? But, you know what; I really do feel that, after tonight, we could quite easily start another 19-match unbeaten run. Why not?!